Spider Holster’s Black Widow DSLR / camera belt holster review

spider holster

There aren’t too many new camera peripherals that do something truly new. Sure, quite a few of them complete a familiar task with more ease and less clutter, but the Black Widow by Spider Holster is an entirely new way to manage your primary or secondary camera. What’s unique about this device is that it can be used by both professional photographers as well as vacationers who simply wish to keep a camera at their hip at all times. Those afraid of missing “that moment” can probably relate. The concept here is really simple: it’s a belt that’s attached around you via a wide Velcro band, and there’s a small ‘catching’ mechanism on the side that sits right beside your leg. You screw in a small, silver knob into the bottom of any camera that accepts a traditional tripod thread screw. The knob then slides down into the socket on your waist, and there it hangs until you need it. A small red thumb switch unlocks the slide, allowing you to easily release the camera with one hand and pull it out for use. When you’ve got the shots you want, just drop it back in the holster. Read on for my full review, as well as a quick video showing exactly how the system works.

%Gallery-119802%I recently used the Black Widow while shooting a wedding, and it dramatically improved my workflow and enabled me to capture shots I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to get. Quite simply, it allowed me to always carry around a secondary DSLR with an ultra wide-angle lens lens, and without having it right there at my waist, it would’ve been far tougher to reach into a backpack or messenger bag to grab the second camera. The convenience factor cannot be ignored. It also does an outstanding job of weight distribution. Lugging another camera over your shoulder or back takes a toll on your after a few hours; this hip solution didn’t bother me at all, even during an eight-hour shoot. For travelers, this seems like an awesome solution for carrying a camera while hiking or in a theme park.

spider holster

Why tie up a hand or have something strapped around your shoulder when you can have it around your waist? For adventure photographers, who simply cannot go to a destination without two cameras and at least two lenses, this is one of the simplest ways yet to carry that second rig. The only major nitpick I had is that the silver knob screw-in piece tends to work itself loose after a number of hours, so be sure to check its tightness every so often, particularly if you’re moving around with any frequency. Also, if you’ll need a tripod mount on the bottom, this system simply won’t work. My workaround is to keep my primary camera ready for tripod use, while using the holstered camera as a handheld-only unit. The other option is to buy a $15.99 tripod plate, which enables the use of tripod mounts while also supporting the holster.

Otherwise, it’s $49.99 well spent if you’re the type who is constantly trying to juggle a pair of cameras, or would like to travel and take shots without always having a camera in one of your hands. A more rugged and advanced ‘SpiderPro System‘ is also available now for $135, catering to those with larger DSLRs and lenses; if you have a trusty belt already, the $8.99 Belt Pad can slide onto just about any belt and provide the same holster action. Lastly, it’s totally possible to hang a camera from each hip if you add a socket on each side.


Travel Photo Tips: using a 50mm F1.4 lens to redefine low-light shooting

50mm f1.4

If there’s one question I’m asked more than any other when it comes to DSLRs, it’s usually one dealing with low-light shooting. Being able to effectively capture a scene in dimly lit situations (or at night altogether) is one of the toughest things to do in photography. Even if you have a flash, you have to be careful when firing it if you don’t want to simply blow everything out and ruin the “mood” and “feel” of a night shot. The most common problems with night images are this: too much blur, too dark of a shot overall or too much noise in the shot. How do you solve those issues? It obviously depends on the camera and accessories you’re using, but one surefire way to make your existing DSLR entirely more capable at night is the purchase of one single lens. The 50mm F1.4 is as close to a magic bullet as there is in the photography world, and if you travel, you can bet you’ll end up wanting to take photographs after sunset.

The 50mm F1.4 has a lot of things going for it. For one, it’s available for nearly every DSLR out there. You can find dedicated versions (either first-party such as Nikkor or third-party like Sigma) for Nikon, Canon, Sony and Olympus DSLRs, with plenty of aftermarket solutions out there for even more brands. Secondly, it’s incredibly small. My D3S camera body dwarfs the 50mm F1.4, and when I’m trying to conceal my camera and get it into concert venues and the like, having a “stub-nose” lens like this makes it much easier to get through. Thirdly, it’s relatively cheap by FX (or full-frame) standards. And finally, the shots you can get from this lens are truly amazing, and they can enable you to capture memories of a trip that you’d otherwise never be able to. Read on for a few examples and suggestions on how to best make use of this low-light masterpiece.

%Gallery-116211%First, you’ll need to understand a little about why this lens is so cut out for taking low-light shots. The trick is its aperture. For a refresher on how aperture affects your photographs, have a look at a prior article here. This lens can “step down” to f/1.4, which is a fancy way of saying that it can allow a flood of light in compared to most lenses, which can only step down to f/3.5 or so. When you’re shooting with limited surrounding light, having the ability to let your lens pull more light in from practically nowhere is vital.

50mm f1.4

This allows your shots to be brighter, your shutter speed to be faster (which lessens the chance of unwanted blur) and your trips to be more memorable. The 50mm aspect is also important; this is not a zoom lens. It cannot be zoomed at all. If you aren’t familiar with “prime” lenses this will probably be strange to hear, but you literally have to walk forward and back while holding the camera to get closer / farther from your subject. 50mm, however, is a solid distance that’s useful in the vast majority of circumstances, and since there’s no zoom to worry over, the lens is the easiest in my collection to travel with.

50mm f1.4

Using the 50mm F1.4 at night is pretty simple. Regardless of what DSLR body you have, I’d recommend setting the aperture down to f/1.4 (using Aperture Priority or Manual Mode) and firing a few test shots. Compare that to shots with the aperture set at f/3.5 or higher, and you’ll notice an immediate impact. The flood of light that is allowed in by the F1.4 lens is really incredible, and in many cases, it allows a shot to be taken that would never be possible otherwise. Of course, all of this is assuming that you’re trying to avoid using a flash in order to retain the mood of your scene; lowering the aperture all the way to f/1.4 is simply an alternative to using a flash, and it’s one that natural light lovers greatly prefer. The gallery below gives you an idea of why — retaining the low-light vibe while still letting in enough light to capture a bright, sharp and blur-free image is reason enough to consider one of these lenses for your collection.

50mm f1.4

Owning this lens most definitely isn’t the only way to take low-light shots. You could use a flash, purchase a new body with a higher ISO range (something like the Nikon D3S) or move your shot into a place with more external light. But if you’re unable to move your shot (the Grand Canyon is a little hard to relocate, especially after sunset), you aren’t willing to spend thousands on a new DSLR body and you aren’t fond of how a flash distorts the vibe of a night shot, there’s hardly a better and more affordable alternative than the 50mm F1.4. For Canon owners in particular, there’s a 50mm F1.2 that allows even more light in, but of course it’s over four times more expensive; the 50mm F1.4 for Canon bodies is around $350 on the open market, whereas the F1.2 version is over $1,600. It’s hard to justify that increase.

50mm f1.4

I should also mention that while the average 50mm F1.4 lens will cost around $350 – $400 regardless of what brand or body you’re buying for, there’s a bargain alternative even to that. Many companies also make a 50mm F1.8 lens, which allows nearly as much light in, but not quite as much. The good news is these are usually around half as expensive as the F1.4 variety, but in my experience, it’s definitely worth saving up and getting the F1.4. It’s a lens that’ll never leave your collection, and will likely follow you around for as long as you’re into DSLR photography. $350 or so is a low price to pay for the ability to take blur-free images in dimly-lit restaurants, at outdoor sporting events and in concert venues, not to mention millions of other after-dark opportunities.

Curious to learn more about travel photography? See our prior articles here!

Shopping for a new 50mm F1.4 lens? Check here:

Geotagging your travels: why you should, and how to do it

geotagging your travels

Even casual travelers know the wonders of GPS. It’s hard to imagine how we functioned on the road just a few years back without a satnav at our disposal, and now that our smartphones are also well equipped to guide us from point A to point Z (and everywhere in between), having a true sense of direction isn’t quite as necessary as it once was. But GPS satellites are useful for quite a bit more than just routing us. In the photography world, geotagging is becoming an increasingly attractive way to effectively track ones travels in a unique, refreshing visual fashion.

If you aren’t familiar with the term, geotagging refers to embedded GPS data on each image, which can then be read by various photo applications and mapping software. When you take a photo using any existing DSLR, a great deal of “metadata” is embedded onto each image; this data enables individuals to see what aperture, shutter speed, white balance setting and focal length (among other things) were used when a particular shot was composed. These pieces of information are remarkably useful when comparing shots after the fact, and geotagging adds one more vital bit of data to the mix: coordinates. Read on to find out how you can start adding GPS data to your images, and why you should make the effort to do so.

%Gallery-115291%The easiest way to make this happen is to buy a camera with a GPS or Hybrid GPS module built-in. A number of newly introduced compact models include this. Fujifilm’s FinePix XP30 has inbuilt geotagging support (not to mention a rugged, waterproof casing), and Casio’s Exilim EX-H20G is a non-rugged alternative with integrated geotagging. It’s an easy feature to find — either a camera has it built-in or it doesn’t, and manufacturers will generally go out of their way to ensure you know if a particular model does.

geotagging your travels

If you aren’t in the market for a new point-and-shoot, existing DSLR owners can upgrade their camera to support geotagging. Nikon makes a module of their own that fits certain models (GP-1), and if your camera doesn’t have a first-party add-on, Gisteq offers a (mostly) universal solution that connects via Bluetooth (PhotoTrackr Plus and PhotoTrackr Mini).

geotagging your travels

Once your camera is equipped to embed geotagging data, all you need is a program that’ll read that data. Apple’s iPhoto (displayed throughout this post) is a great example; any image that you load into iPhoto can be sorted by ‘Places.’ If you have an Internet connection, you’ll see pins populate the map (as shown here) in order to represent all of the locales where photos were taken. Google’s Picasa is another solid option, as is the popular Flickr.

geotagging your travels

What you’re left with is an incredibly visual way to look at a trip you recently took, all by way of photographs. In a way, these specific location points tell a story in an of themselves. Rather than simply telling friends and family that a certain group of photos were taken in Montana (for example), geotagging allows them to see exactly what routes you took on a road trip and precisely which trails you skied at Whitefish Mountain Resort. If you took multiple images at a certain place, you can easily sort those by selecting a single pin. The images throughout this article show (most) of the photos I took on my Casio Exilim EX-H20G while in northwestern Montana, including a number of shots while on Big Mountain itself.

geotagging your travels

On a grander scale, geotagging all of your images for the foreseeable future would enable you to create a lifetime travel map that visually shows where you’ve been in the world. It’s certainly a lot easier than trying to remember every off-the-wall stop you made, and it’s most definitely more satisfying than some Bucket List you’ve generated in Microsoft Word. On a smaller scale, sending your child off to camp with a geotagging camera would allow you to see where all the counselors shuttled your young one around — after all, kids have a thing for not keeping a very detailed journal, and this would make their job of explaining what all they did a lot easier.

geotagging your travels

Interested in getting started with geotagging? Listed below are a few recommended GPS-enabled cameras, geotagging add-on dongles and photo applications that work well with geotagged images.

GPS-enabled point-and-shoot cameras:

Geotagging add-on dongles:

Geotagging applications:

Travel Photo Tips: Taking photos while skiing / snowmobiling, and keeping your camera dry

photos while skiing

I recently embarked on a trip to Montana’s northwestern corner, primarily concerned with a couple of things: enjoying a few days of skiing and snowmobiling, and keeping my shutter going all the while. Truth be told, it’s harder than you might think. Managing to capture photos — let alone ones that you’d be proud to show off — in wintry conditions is certainly a challenge, but it’s not completely impossible if you prepare well and allow a bit of extra composing time out on the hill.

Being the family photographer while out on the slopes (or on the trails) requires extra effort, but I’ve got a few tips to make things as painless as possible. If you’ve splurged on a winter vacation, you won’t want to return home without any images to prove it. Read on to see how I pulled off a few clutch shots while skiing at Whitefish Mountain Resort and covering the trails in nearby Olney, MT.

%Gallery-114795%First, let’s start with the slopes. There’s a reason that many ski resorts offer professional packages costing hundreds of dollars to have someone follow you down the slopes snapping shots. It’s not exactly easy. But even if you don’t have a DSLR, it’s possible to capture key moments while keeping your precious camera dry and your loved ones back home in the know.

Here are a few tips for selecting a camera that’s fit for use on the mountain:

  • Choose a waterproof camera if at all possible. Canon’s PowerShot D10, Casio’s Exilim G EX-G1 and Fujifilm’s FinePix XP20 (or XP30 if you want integrated geotagging) all are great options. I’ll cover how to avoid drops in the snow, but accidents can happen.
  • Don’t lug a DSLR onto the slopes. Unless you’re shooting professionally, I’d highly recommend sticking with a point-and-shoot. DSLRs are too heavy, too bulky and too difficult to operate with gloves hands or frigid fingers.
  • Choose the smallest compact you can find. Ever tried to wrangle something large out of a ski jacket pocket with thick, stiff gloves on? It’s not easy. Keep things slim and you won’t grow frustrated with pulling your camera in and out.
  • Keep a spare battery handy. Frigid temperatures can zap a battery in no time. If you plan on taking more than a hundred or so shots, it may be wise to invest in a second battery.
  • Aim for a camera with a large shutter button. It sounds weird now, but the more surface area on that shutter button, the easier it is for a gloved hand to operate.
  • Avoid touchscreen-based cameras. Touching is good in normal circumstances, but covered fingers need physical buttons to wade through menus and selections.
  • Disable the flash. You won’t need it in broad daylight, and the reflections look terrible off of the snow.

photos while skiing

Now, a few tips on keeping your camera safe and dry:

  • Use a long, rugged strap. This is vital — you’ll want your camera to easily wrap around your wrist while using it, so you’ll need a long leash.
  • Zip your camera within an internal jacket pocket. Keeping a camera closer to your chest makes it less susceptible to breaking if you fall (the horror!), and the added warmth is a boon to battery life.
  • Never grab your camera with a snow-soaked gloved. It should go without saying, but mixing water — even cold water — with electronics is never a good idea.
  • Leave the strap dangling out as you zip the camera into your jacket pocket. Leaving that tether hanging out makes accessing your camera a breeze; if the entire unit falls into your pocket, it’s nearly impossible to drag out with a gloved hand.
  • Always handle the camera with an ungloved hand if you can. Don’t get frostbite, but on balmy days, using skin gives you more control and makes you less likely to lose grip on your camera.

Onto snowmobiling. I’d always recommend carrying a pack while hitting the trails, if only to lug around a first air kit, a SPOT GPS Messenger and a collapsable shovel. But there’s another reason: it’s perfect for holding your DSLR and a couple of your favorite lenses. Riding on a sled enables you to carry a lot more gear, and given the amazing sights you’re apt to see while riding in the backcountry of northern Montana or in Grand Teton National Park (just examples, of course), you’ll probably want to capture some of these landscapes with a bit more style. For this, I’d highly recommend a DSLR (and a pair of hand warmers to keep the feeling in your mitts).

photos while skiing

Here are a few basic pointers when hauling a rig via snowmobile:

  • Pack padding around your camera, and always keep it near the top of your pack in a separate compartment if possible. Less time digging means more time shooting.
  • If you own a wide-angle or fisheye lens, this is the time to pack it. Vast landscapes and pristine mountain shots are likely to find you, so be ready to capture all of it (or as much as possible) in a single frame.
  • If you’d prefer to go bagless, invest in a waterproof case to keep it dry from falling snow as it’s strapped around your back.
  • In most cases, you should be able to compose shots with your gloves on. Learning shortcuts to adjust settings within ‘Manual’ mode would probably be beneficial before heading out.
  • Watch the aperture. If you’re looking to capture vast landscapes, you’ll want a higher-than-average f/stop figure. On a bright, clear day, it’s not unusual to shoot between f/14 and f/22 or higher.
  • Watch your exposure. Snowy landscapes can confuse Matrix metering modes, and if you’re noticing that your shots are constantly turning out darker than you’d prefer, feel free to bump the exposure up a few steps to compensate.

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photos while skiing

I’ll close this one out by recommending a helmet cam if you’re the daredevil type. The ContourGPS, GoPro HD Hero and Drift Innovation HD170 can all be strapped around your helmet in order to record your wildest rides in high-definition. All without you lifting a finger while riding. These are certainly niche products, but there’s hardly a better excuse to buy one than to record your day on the trails.

Travel Photo Tips: What is metering, and how does it affect my pictures?

what is metering

Up until now, we’ve covered three of the more basic, essential aspects of understanding the minutiae that goes into composing a photograph. While traveling, it’s easy to run into vastly different scenes from hour to hour, making it all the more important to understand how and why your camera reacts the way it does. The goal here is to get you more comfortable with manually controlling your camera so you can accurately capture whatever it is you’ve traveled to see, and while it’s not nearly as simple to grasp as ISO, aperture or shutter speed, getting a basic understanding of metering is essential to understanding how exposure works.

When you think about exposure in general, you think about how brightly lit or how dark an image is. We’ve all seen the wedding rehearsal pictures that were so underexposed that everyone looks like a silhouette, and we’ve all seen the sunrise shot from the beach where everything looks white — a telltale sign of overexposure. In this guide, we’ll provide you with the knowledge you need to know in order to grasp metering and how it affects the exposure (darkness / brightness) of your travel shots. And we’ll also refrain from drowning you in technical knowledge that you have no time to ingest. Read on to get one step closer to mastering metering.Metering is a broad topic. Discussions could go on for hours if you wanted to dig into the technical aspects, but for the purposes of this article, we’ll simply be focusing on the three main metering modes available on most modern DSLRs. On your camera, you’ll probably have a small selector dial with three options on it; a single, tiny spot, a larger spot with a thin band around it, and an even larger spot with a full border around it. This will obviously vary from camera to camera, so consult your owner’s guide if you’re having trouble figuring out where you metering toggle switch is. Below, we’ll discuss the three primary modes and give you examples of when you should (or shouldn’t) use each one.

Be aware that these only automatically adjust when using the camera in a mode other than ‘Manual.’ If shooting in manual mode, you’ll have full control over the metering prior to shooting each shot, so you’ll need to make adjustments based on what your camera says; in other modes, the camera will determine the metering for you based on which of the below selections you have made.

what is metering

Spot Metering. This is that tiny circle we referred to above. If you select this, your camera will only focus on a very small portion of a shot, which you can direct in your viewfinder. The camera will then adjust exposure for only that, and ignore the surroundings entirely. If choosing a spot that isn’t an obvious focal point, you’ll need to manually focus. When is this useful / not useful?

  • Use spot metering if your subject is brightly backlit, and you have no real concern for the background being “blown out,” or appearing white, so long as your subject is exposed properly.
  • In macro shots, spot metering can be useful to get the exact exposure on the objects in the center of the frame.
  • If you’re attempting to photograph the moon, spot metering accurately disregards the expanse of black around the moon itself.
  • If you have a landscape shot with lots of shadows, you can adjust the spot so the camera exposes for a non-shadow.
  • Don’t use spot metering if you have any concern at all about the entire image being exposed properly.

Needless to say, spot metering is a niche option. It’s only useful in a handful of situations, so it shouldn’t be your go-to selection. Moving on, there’s a Center Weighted Average Metering option. Think of this as the “splitting the difference” option. In a nutshell, this will average the exposure of the entire frame, but give extra consideration to the center area of the image. When is this useful / not useful?

  • For portraits — maybe a couple on a beach, or a family at dinner — this option works well.
  • If your subject is brightly lit, but you do care about the background (a cityscape behind them, for example), give this option a whirl.
  • If you find that your Matrix metering option isn’t providing accurate suggestions or giving you enough control over what is focused on, this weighted option might be the ticket.

what is metering
Matrix Metering takes the entire image into consideration and exposes accordingly.

The final major mode found on the bulk of DSLRs is Matrix Mode. This is both the most complicated to explain and (in general) the most useful. Each camera handles it differently, but the idea is that multiple zones are evaluated, and then all of them are weighted together and evaluated as a whole using algorithms that you probably have no desire to understand. Just trust us: these algorithms are usually very small, and oftentimes provide the best direction for exposing shots where the entire frame is important to consider. When is this useful / not useful?

  • The rule of thumb is to always use Matrix mode unless you can think of a specific reason why you’d need Center Weighted Average or Spot Metering modes.
  • Even if you think Spot or Center Weighted modes would be useful, we’d recommend shooting first in Matrix. Today’s DSLRs are surprisingly good at judging exposure based on calculated matrixes.

Keep in mind that this is just a basic explanation of metering to get you started. In future articles, we will cover tips on how to use changes in metering for creative effects in scenarios related to travel. For example, selecting the best metering mode for snowy vacations, or for capturing macro shots of foods or signs that’ll remind you of your journeys. Hopefully with the pointers listed here and in our previous articles on ISO, aperture and shutter speed, you’ll be four steps closer to understanding your camera’s ‘Manual’ mode.

Let’s recap:

  • Metering is important because it determines the exposure of your shot, or how brightly / dimly lit it will be.
  • Use Matrix Mode on your DSLR unless you have a very specific shot or reason to use another option.
  • Spot Metering is useful only in niche circumstances, such as brightly backlit sporting events, shooting the moon or certain macro shots.
  • Center Weighted Average Metering is best reserved for portraits.
  • Even when metering, you can (likely) adjust your exposure up to two full stops in either direction; since Matrix is the least predictable, be willing to tweak things a little brighter or darker depending on preference.
  • If you’re overly concerned about metering, but have little time to adjust things on the fly, shoot in RAW — metering can largely be adjusted after the fact with no real deterioration of quality if you do so. With JPEG, you will notice a decrease in quality when dramatically changing the exposure in post-processing.

Stay tuned for more tips on understanding metering, white balance and more! Our basic guide to understanding ISO, aperture and shutter speed can be seen here.